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Faculty motivations for using open educational resources

OER use builds options and equity into online learning.

By Emily Ragan, Ph.D.

May 5, 2020

Students working in the Ethnography lab.The COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators to change rapidly and explore novel teaching strategies. It is also opening our eyes to cost barriers to our students. Many faculty members at Metropolitan State University of Denver are adopting open educational resources, which are course materials freely available for use and modification.

While it can feel overwhelming to find OER, there are simple first steps. Explore the Open Textbook Library to see if there is a text that will work for all or part of your course. If so, add the text to your syllabus as a supplemental resource or just use a chapter at a time.

This strategy was used by Jose Martinez, Ph.D., assistant professor, Education.

“I’ve put my advocacy for more access and equity in the classroom into practice by implementing the use of OER into my Educational Foundations course for aspiring teachers,” Martinez said. “I began by evaluating and reviewing an OER textbook through the Open Textbook Review Workshop last fall. This encouraged me to join the OER faculty learning community and learn about how I could effectively implement the textbook and other OER into my course. This semester, I piloted using the OER textbook by including a chapter from the text.”

Martinez adds that he was pleased with how well students interacted with the OER content and transferred that knowledge to other areas of the course — this validated the quality of the OER textbook and inspired him to use more OER in the future.

Many faculty members have found that the switch to OER provides great cost savings to their students as well as increased opportunity for faculty collaboration. Ben Dyhr, Ph.D., associate professor, Mathematics, piloted an OER textbook last fall, and three colleagues joined him in using it across eight course sections this spring.

“Implementation of OER in my General Studies math class sent a clear message to students that we are in this together,” Dyhr said. “Students are keenly aware of the savings and appreciate our efforts toward adopting OER. In this way, and through faculty collaboration, OER positively impacts students financially and strengthens our academic community.”

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is one year into using an open textbook for General Chemistry I and II. Megan Lazorski, Ph.D., assistant professor, Chemistry, finds the equity argument for OER especially compelling.

“Empirical scholarly research suggests two important findings about OER: First, the implementation of OER can specifically improve learning outcomes for underserved populations; and second, students using OER from all populations performed at least on par with students in courses using conventional materials but with lower course-withdrawal rates,” Lazorski said. “Not surprisingly, OER implementation is quickly becoming characterized as an act of social justice and equity in higher education, an idea that is certainly reflected in the official NAACP statement promoting OER adoption.”

Nyki Giasolli, lecturer, Biology, who with colleague Jon Dyhr, Ph.D., assistant professor, Biology, has moved anatomy and physiology labs online, demonstrated use of free 3D brain websites to her students over Microsoft Teams.

“To my delight, several students embraced these free resources and ran with them,” Giasolli said. “The students created a Teams study group and used the sites to learn and quiz each other. One particular site allows students to download screenshots of exactly what they are looking at. This allowed students to put various views of the same structure into study guides or digital flashcards, all for free!”

Equity and student success are major motivators for Giasolli.

“A high-quality resource which is free goes a long way to decreasing the divide among our most vulnerable students,” she said. “I did invest a bit of energy finding and navigating these resources, but the payoff in student engagement and success has fueled my desire to find more.”

A useful resource for finding OER is the Auraria Library OER guide, which was discussed in last week’s Early Bird.

Topics: Academics, Access, OER, Open Educational Resources, Student Success

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